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Does Sweat Cause Acne? The Truth Might Surprise You!


Do you justify your aversion to the gym with the notion that exercise and acne go hand-in-hand? Allow us to enlighten you: exercise itself is not the culprit, and that’s not bad news. Working out is actually great, and not just for your body, but for your skin as well. Done the right way, it charges your internal systems to work at peak power, lending a helping hand in the battle against acne. (And if you’re struggling with acne, wouldn’t you like all the help you can get?) While getting your sweat on 4-5 times a week is highly recommended, it’s important that you go about working out in a skin-conscious way—one that will eliminate the variables that are known to contribute to acne. Here, our most helpful tips to keep in mind.

When you hit the gym, it’s best to start with a clean face. It’s not just that dramatic, full-coverage foundation and smoky eyes look ridiculous on a stationary bike; it’s that even oil-free cosmetics can clog your pores in conjunction with sweat. An easy way to stay honest with this one? Keep a pack of makeup-removing wipes in your gym bag, and use them when you change into your workout gear. And if you can’t get to a shower immediately following your workout, use them again for a post-sweat cleanse.

If your workout of choice involves hitting the trail, the track or the beach, sunscreen is an absolute must. Contrary to what you may have heard, the sun is not good for acne—in fact, the opposite is true. Aside from that, damaging UVA rays can wreak havoc on your skin even when it’s cold and cloudy. In this day and age, you’d be crazy not to commit to a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day. There are plenty of oil-free, non-acnegenic, and non-comedogenic options available that will not break you out.

If you’re prone to body acne, avoid garments made of 100% lycra or nylon like the plague. Synthetic fabrics of any type can trap heat and moisture against your skin, creating a breeding ground for the bacteria that causes acne. Always wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of cotton or other natural fabrics. Blends (like lycra-cotton) are okay, but not ideal. That said, recent advances have resulted in synthetic fabrics that wick moisture away from your body, and you definitely want that.

Equipment actually isn’t the issue here; it’s how much friction it creates when you wear or use it. For example, if you wear a helmet, make sure it fits snugly, not allowing for loose movement than can create friction. If you can line your helmet with a layer of soft, washable cotton fabric (such as an old t-shirt) you can go a long way to avoiding acne flare-ups. Conversely, if you wear a wetsuit or similar garment (like a bike riding outfit), make sure it doesn’t fit too tightly or it will create problems as well. And regardless of what equipment you do use, always make sure it’s clean and dry before putting it away.

Again, sweat in itself doesn’t cause acne, but if you are prone to breaking out, it can aggravate your skin. When you reach for a towel to wipe your face, always blot—wiping can cause aggravation. Also, it’s best to hit the shower immediately after you exercise—preferably with a medicated acne-fighting body cleanser. Can’t shower right away? Yet another reason you should keep some cleansing wipes on hand, but unlike the ones you use to take off your makeup, wipes you use on your body will work best if they’re medicated.